National organization launches to support Indian day school survivors


A national organization to support wellness and healing initiatives for thousands of survivors of federally run Indian day schools will officially launch Thursday.

Ceremony for Federal Indian Day Schools Survivors

The McLean Day Schools Settlement Corporation holds a virtual ceremony to commemorate the launch of their organization as well as the launch of a national outreach process to gain input from Federal Indian Day Schools Survivors and their families about the rollout of the Legacy Fund, which is part of the settlement agreement. 0:00

A national organization to support wellness and healing initiatives for thousands of survivors of federally run Indian day schools marks its official launch Thursday.

The McLean Day School Settlement Corporation will introduce its board members via a ceremony livestreamed online at 1 p.m. ET Thursday from Eel Ground First Nation in New Brunswick.

“What’s important is hope and building a legacy of healing,” said Elder Claudette Commanda, a member of the board who is Algonquin from Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg in Quebec.

Commanda herself is a survivor of the day school system, having been forced to attend the Congo Bridge school in Kitigan Zibi.

“We did go home to our families after school, but there was still abuses that went on,” she said.

“We were not allowed to speak our language in those schools. We were not allowed to even know anything about who we are as Anishinaabe people.”

Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief Roger Augustine and James Igloliorte, a retired Inuk judge, are also part of the non-profit organization’s board.

Students at the grounds of the Cote Indian Day School, near Kamsack, Sask., in September 1958. A total of 669 day schools operated across Canada between 1863 and 2000. (Library and Archives Canada)

In 2019, Canada signed a $1.47-billion settlement with thousands of former students who suffered harm while attending federally operated Indian day schools.

Because the day schools were operated separately from residential schools, day school students were left out of the 2006 Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement.

The day school survivors settlement agreement earmarked a $200-million legacy fund, which the new organization will administer to support initiatives that foster language and culture, healing and wellness, commemoration and truth telling for day school survivors and their families.

The organization is named after the late Garry McLean, who was lead plaintiff in the class action lawsuit that led to the settlement agreement. 

In a statement Wednesday, Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada spokesperson Carine Midy said in addition to individual compensation, it was important that the settlement included “forward-looking investments to support survivors, their families and communities [to] address the painful legacy of federal Indian day schools.”

What are Indian day schools?

An often overlooked part of Canadian history, a total of 669 day schools operated across Canada in every province and territory except Newfoundland and Labrador between 1863 and 2000.

While separate from the residential school system, day schools were also part of a federal policy aimed at assimilating First Nations and Inuit children, and often had religious affiliations to the Roman Catholic, United, Anglican and other churches.

Claudette Commanda poses in front of the former Prince of Wales Bridge in Ottawa, which was recently renamed the Chief William Commanda Bridge after her grandfather, on July 9. She will be part of the board for the new McLean Day School Settlement Corporation. (David Richard/Radio-Canada)

The new support organization will also begin an engagement process this fall with survivors, families and communities on how the legacy fund should be structured, implemented and distributed.

For Commanda, healing is at the forefront, but she also recognizes the need for Canadians to learn more about the history of Indian day schools and experiences of survivors.

Unlike the Indian residential school settlement agreement, the day school settlement agreement didn’t include a national inquiry or commission such as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

“Canadians need to be educated on federal Indian schools. They need to hear the truth,” she said.

“Speaking as a survivor, healing and wellness is so important. But how do we get healing and wellness? Truth has to be told.”

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